Decisions: Trial by Mathematics

After an elderly woman was mugged in an alley in San Pedro, Calif., a witness saw a blonde girl with a ponytail run from the alley and jump into a yellow car driven by a bearded Negro. Eventually tried for the crime, Janet and Malcolm Collins were faced with the circumstantial evidence that she was white, blonde and wore a ponytail while her Negro husband owned a yellow car and wore a beard. The prosecution, impressed by the unusual nature and number of matching details, sought to persuade the jury by invoking a law rarely used in a courtroom—the...

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